Ben van Beurden, chief executive of the Anglo-Dutch group, said he welcomed the idea of bringing forward the ban, as it would provide clarity and make it easier for companies like Shell to make investment decisions and also shift consumer attitudes.

Asked if he would like to see the ban take effect earlier, as MPsmayors and thinktanks have called for, he said: “If you would bring it forward, obviously that would be welcome. I think the UK will have to go at a much higher speed than the speed the rest of the world can go.”

While Africa and Asia would out of necessity have to switch to battery vehicles at a slower rate, it would be welcome if the UK accelerated its plan, the executive told the Guardian. “The world will work at different speeds,” he said.

The rise of electric cars, which the government is banking on to displace conventional cars and cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, poses a double whammy for oil companies.

As well as cutting demand for their main product – though how fast and how deeply is hotly disputed – the switch also threatens their petrol stations.

Shell has responded by buying electric car infrastructure firms and beginning to install charging points on forecourts, while BP last week bought the UK’s biggest electric-car charging network for £130m.

Van Beurden said a lot of work was needed to cut emissions from transport, which in the UK has overtaken energy as the sector with the biggest carbon footprint.

There are more than 140,000 plug-in cars in the UK, and about 2% of new car sales are electric. But the chief executive said pure electric cars were a “tiny proportion” of vehicles on the road.

He was also strongly critical of the rise of climate change lawsuits being brought against oil companies.

A Californian court recently dismissed a case against Shell brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. This week Rhode Island became the first US state to launch a similar suit, suing Shell and other oil majors for their contribution to climate change’s impact on the state.

“It’s sort of bizarre that the users of our products say, actually we don’t want your product, why did you force it on us,” said Van Beurden.

Adam Vaughan

This article first appeared on the Guardian

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